NASHUA, N.H. – At packed campaign rallies in school gyms, Pete Buttigieg – a surging frontrunner — and Amy Klobuchar, punching above her weight, as she likes to say – pitched energized voters on Sunday united in picking the strongest candidate who can defeat President Donald Trump.
Buttigieg is the former South Bend mayor unknown outside of political circles a little more than a year ago. He heads into the final days of the New Hampshire Tuesday primary on a boom, vaulting out of Iowa with more delegates than Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent.
Sanders won the 2016 New Hampshire primary, trouncing Hillary Clinton 60.4% to 38%. That can’t be replicated because of the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential field. The new CNN poll, out Sunday, has Sanders, then Buttigieg in the lead with the others – Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator; ex-Vice President Joe Biden; Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator; and everyone else ten or more points behind.
“Our numbers have grown a little bit since I first turned up in Nashua, poking my head into coffee shops hoping to get two or three dozen people into a backyard,” Buttigieg said. Buttigieg warmed up for this rally by doing six Sunday shows before hitting the Elm Street Middle School, the home of the Eagles.
“We are surging,” said Klobuchar at the Fairgrounds Middle School, the home of the Falcons. Since the Friday debate in Manchester, where Klobuchar had a good night, her campaign has raised $3 million dollars.
The wittiest 2020 contender, Klobuchar has effectively weaponized humor. Her roots in chilly Minnesota helped her at the debate. Said Klobuchar, “It was in an ice arena, so I felt I had a home field advantage.”
THE BUTTIGIEG BOOM
Buttigieg and Sanders, as the frontrunners, are getting closer scrutiny from rivals. Biden, aiming to limp out of New Hampshire to more favorable electoral turf in Nevada and South Carolina, is trying to wound Buttigieg and Sanders.
“This guy’s not a Barack Obama,” Biden said Saturday, likely frustrated at how Buttigieg jumped to the head of the line, just as Obama, then an Illinois senator, did in 2008.
“Well, he’s right. I’m not. And neither is he,” Buttigieg said, asked to respond to Biden’s remark on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Neither is any of us running for president. And this isn’t 2008. It’s 2020. And we are in a new moment calling for a different kind of leadership. Look, we are facing the most disruptive president in modern times. And I don’t think the same playbook that helped us get here is going to work against him,” Buttigieg said.
I ran into David Axelrod at Klobuchar’s rally. He was Obama’s campaign top strategist and worked in the White House.
“Biden has every right to claim to have been a very productive partner of Obama’s. I was there. And there’s no doubt that he was. I think he was a great vice president,” Axelrod said. Biden “certainly has a claim” to Obama, he said.
Still, “Pete is obviously trying to invoke some of the spirit of that Obama campaign. And he certainly has a right to do that,” Axelrod said.
Biden and other Democrats say that if Sanders is the nominee, he will be a drag on down ticket candidates who will be accused of being fellow socialists. Sanders embraces democratic socialism; politically, that distinction makes no difference to Republicans.
In Nashua, alluding to that, Buttigieg said if he is the nominee, he will be strong enough to help Democrats win control of the Senate. He said he would “build a campaign with big enough waves and big enough coattails that (GOP Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell will not be in the majority or the Senate at all by the time I take office.”
The crowds at the rallies include a healthy number of political tourists, here from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and other close locales.
Here’s what some New Hampshire voters have to say:
An almost decided Buttigieg voter: “I am 90, 95% sure,” said Valerie Edwards, 36, of Amherst, N.H. She voted for Sanders in 2016. “I’m leaning towards Pete,” the ICU nurse and mother of two said. She was holding 4-month-old Ryan as we talked before the Buttigieg rally started.
“I’ve gone to two of his town halls, and we went to see Joe Biden earlier this week. We are going to see Amy, hopefully tonight or tomorrow.”
She likes that the Buttigieg campaign is “family oriented, which is a huge thing for me in this election, you know the health care, family leave, all of that stuff.”
A decided Klobuchar voter: Pegeen Dunne, 54, a special needs teacher from Nashua, is for Klobuchar. “Everything that she says is appealing to me. She wants to bring us back to normal.”
An undecided voter: Kim Holman, 52, a personal trainer from Brookline, N.H., at the Buttigieg rally said it’s a likely tossup between Sanders and Buttigieg.
“I’ve seen Bernie, this is my second time seeing Pete. I saw Tom Steyer, and I’m seeing Amy Klobuchar this afternoon.”
I asked Holman what she still needs to know. She replied, “I’m going with my heart on Tuesday. I don’t know yet … . The first time I saw Pete, I was brought to tears, so it’s more emotional.”
A Republican who would, if she could, vote for a Democrat: Julie Mitchell, 58, is a middle school teacher from Merrimack, N.H. Her mind is made up. “I’m for Pete.”
The problem is this: Unlike Illinois, where a voter can pull any party primary ballot, the rules are different in New Hampshire. Mitchell is a registered Republican turned off by Trump. However, she missed the New Hampshire deadline to switch parties.
First timers: Matthew Landry, 30, from Hudson, N.H., works in IT as a software specialist. His wife, Rebecca, 32, is a preschool teacher. Though raised in New Hampshire, this Buttigieg rally is their first, they told me.
They both like Buttigieg, at 38 the youngest candidate. As parents of a 7-month-old, Rebecca said she now is “more concerned about the future.”
Rebecca said, “I feel like he relates to us, being younger, not necessarily going through what we are going through, but I think he speaks more for my generation than someone who has been out of it for a little while.”
Trump hits Manchester for a rally here Monday night, primary eve.